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The Coming Fire Season

posted Jun 24, 2017, 1:21 PM by Joe Christy

There are two canonical answers to the question what will the upcoming fire season be like, either ask me again in December or the worst ever. In the 1970’s fire season in California averaged 78 days; according to A. Leroy Westerling of UC Merced and his collaborators, it is now more than twice as long. As we saw in 2014-2016, some years fire season doesn’t end at all. The sobering statistics of the last 25 years show that on a California, US, or global scale, on average fire seasons are growing exponentially longer and fiercer. As on June 24, 2017, when I am writing this, CAL FIRE has recorded 107 wildland fires in the State Responsibility Area; for the prior 5 years, the corresponding numbers are: 2016 – 48, 2015 – 37, 2014 – 48, 2013 – 58, and 2012 – 38.
At the top of our mountain today, the standard fuel moisture, a measure of the relative weight of wildland fuels to their dry weight, is hovering around 7%, which is the level that it was when the 2009 Lockheed Fire began. The observed fuel moisture of both live chamise at Saratoga Summit and of live manzantita in Corralitos are about average for late June, but dropping rapidly.

Yet One More Spark, Yet One More Disastrous Wildfire

posted Jun 24, 2017, 1:18 PM by Joe Christy

In Utah, the Brian Head Fire started June 17 and by June 24 had grown to 38,000 acres and destroyed 13 homes. It is known to have been caused by human activity, as are nearly all wildfires in California. It is believed to have been started by a homeowner wielding a weed whacker.
Please be fire aware when maintaining your defensible space. Remember that the temperature at ground level typically 20° to 40° hotter than the air. Think twice or more about using metal-bladed tools, and finish your work by 10am, when the grass will be as dry as the air.

CAL FIRE’s Wildfire app

posted Jun 24, 2017, 1:16 PM by Joe Christy

Early in June, CAL FIRE released their Ready for Wildfire app for mobile phones to both the Apple App Store and Google Play. While the app is full of useful hints & checklists of simple steps to prepare yourself and your home for wildfire, its must-have feature is the ability to sign up for text alerts for wildfire in Santa Cruz County, where you are currently located, any other county, or even the whole state. Stay wildfire aware!

Tick tick tick tick - Preparing for Wildfire on 60 Minutes

posted Jun 8, 2017, 4:28 PM by Joe Christy

Recently 60 minutes aired a segment on Why fighting wildfires often fails -- and what to do about it, featuring one of my heros, Jack Cohen, whose research on how homes burn in wildfires led him to develop the concept of the Home Ignition Zone [HIZ]. Check out the video or read the transcript at: Please contact us if you'd like to take advantage of our free HIZ Assessment.

The Trouble with Humans

posted Mar 24, 2017, 2:53 PM by Joe Christy

It’s a maxim amongst wildland firefighters that the three most important causes of wildland fire are men, women, and children (though obviously not in that order). The new era of big data analysis and the vast accumulated US weather data sets from the last century and a half are now bearing out the factual truth of that maxim. Two recent studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences expose two facts.
The first study, Human-caused climate change is now a key driver of forest fire activity in the western United States, looked at fuel aridity, which is in a sense the flipside of our old friend fuel moisture, and which has an obvious correlation with fire severity. Scientists from Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory, University of Idaho, and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies have been able to parse out, first in California, then across the West, the impact of human caused climate change from the statistically normal oscillations in weather, e.g. El Nino. They found that while the maximal severity of California’s annual summer drought is not increasing, the frequency of extreme droughts is, and that increased frequency is primarily due to the component of warming of the earth’s atmosphere correlated with increase of greenhouse gasses. Across the west, they found that “human-caused climate change caused over half of the documented increases in fuel aridity since the 1970s and doubled the cumulative forest fire area since 1984”.
In the second, Human-started wildfires expand the fire niche across the United States, using the government wildfire data for the entire US, scientists from the Universities of Colorado, Massachusetts, and Idaho, found that “human-started wildfires accounted for 84% of all wildfires, tripled the length of the fire season, dominated an area seven times greater than that affected by lightning fires, and were responsible for nearly half of all area burned.” In our eco-region of California, 97% of wildfires are being caused by humans, who have doubled the length of fire season (though in 2014-2015 we saw one year’s fire season merge into a second), and are responsible for 89% of the area burned!
In other words, humans are both making our environment more susceptible to large, severe wildfires, and supplying the sparks that start those fires. Our mission is all the more important.

How Can We Help Your Neighborhood?

posted Jan 30, 2017, 12:12 PM by Joe Christy

This winter and spring we're reaching out specifically to neighborhoods in Bonny Doon about improving our readiness for the next wildfire here on the mountain. Among the areas where we can help your neighborhood:
1. Evacuation planning: the six P’s - what to be ready to take with you, identifying neighbors who might need assistance in an evacuation, alternate routes, communication, etc.
2. Addressing clearance issues that emergency vehicles face accessing properties in your neighborhood.
3. Organizing work days to secure common roads and provide defensible space around individual homes. This could include chipping, for a nominal donation, of slash deposited at designated places along common roads.
4. Improving signage: house numbers, water sources, turn-arounds, and pull-offs on one lane roads.
5. Discussing what projects you and your neighbors think would help to improve wildfire preparation in your own neighborhood.
Please contact us as at left if the Fire Safe Council might be of help with these or any other wildfire-related issues in your neighborhood.

Amah Mutsun Land Trust newsletter sign-up

posted Dec 21, 2016, 3:50 PM by Joe Christy

As Rick Flores mentioned in his presentation at the annual meeting, the Amah Mutsun Land Trust has an email newsletter. You can sign up for it at:

Save the Date – Annual Meeting Wednesday December 7, 2016

posted Nov 27, 2016, 12:08 PM by Joe Christy   [ updated Dec 21, 2016, 3:44 PM ]

This year’s Annual Meeting will take place 7pm, Wednesday evening, December 7, 2016 at the Bonny Doon School Multipurpose Room.

While we will have the usual election of board members and report on our finances and activities during 2016, the highpoint will undoubtedly be the presentation. In October, you may have noticed that CAL FIRE performed prescribed burns totaling about 7 acres, to maintain the part of the fuel break that we completed along Empire Grade from the Ben Lomond Camp to about half a mile NE of Alba Road. What you may not know is that the burn was conducted in cooperation with the Amah Mutsun Land Trust. We are very lucky to have Rick Flores come that evening to discuss the nexus of culture and ecology that represents, see below.

Fire on the Central Coast: Implications for Cultural and Ecological Restoration

This talk will explore how the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band are relearning traditional ecological knowledge to return to the path of their ancestors and care for Mother Earth.  Historically, fire was widely used on the Central Coast to manage ecosystems and promote native plant resources.  Without the use of fire our landscapes are changing and culturally important plant species are disappearing.  Today, the use of fire can be used to both restore cultural practices, and therefore culture itself, and our degraded ecosystems.

Rick Flores is a graduate student in the Environmental Studies Department at UC Santa Cruz. His research focuses on the efforts of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band (AMTB) to relearn traditional ecological knowledge and become active stewards in their traditional territory once again after a period of colonial dispossession. He is also the Steward of the Amah Mutsun Relearning Program at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, which is a collaborative effort between the Arboretum and the AMTB to assist the tribe in the relearning of plant identification, ethnobotany, and traditional resource and environmental management practices, as well as educating students and the public about California Indian lifeways. In addition, he is a Research Associate for the Amah Mutsun Land Trust which uniquely merges conventional land trust approaches with indigenous knowledge, techniques, and ideals, and is committed to protecting and celebrating cultural resources through creating opportunities for the AMTB to engage in traditional ways across the landscapes of their ancestors.

Three Winter Thoughts

posted Nov 27, 2016, 12:03 PM by Joe Christy

As you read this, fire preparedness season is upon us. This is a great time to clean up your defensible space. On the one hand, backyard burn season begins December 1, on the other with brush and saplings greening up, chipping is especially easy and chips will have a chance to begin composting into soil.
Look around your neighborhood. Chances are that you and your neighbors have only one way in and one way out. Is that way secure in case of wildfire: 5’-10’ cleared on either side of the roadway, with branches trimmed up 15’? Consider getting together with your neighbors to ensure that it is and to plan for emergencies. Remember, your Fire Safe Council is here to provide advice & assistance; for certain projects, we can also facilitate help from Ben Lomond Camp crews.
Finally, in this season of giving and thankfulness, we especially appreciate donations to help us carry out our mission.

Can You Help Us Help our Community?

posted Sep 24, 2016, 2:56 PM by Joe Christy

As winter approaches, please consider volunteering some of your time to help us educate and mobilize our neighbors to protect our community, homes and environment from wildfire. There are several specific areas where we can use help:
In late November or early December, we need to elect one or three new members to our board. The board meets once a month for an hour or two to plan and prioritize our efforts and the more people who are involved, the more responsive our work can be.
We need an experienced person to help us develop a vigorous social media presence.
We need people to help bring neighborhoods together to secure their shared roads and plan for evacuations. The Bonny Doon CERT has a Map Your Neighborhood Program that meshes well with this.
We need people who are relatively insensitive to poison oak to help us clean up the last remnants of the flagging that we used to lay out the Warrenella Shaded Fuel Break.
We always need monitors to help us when we work with Ben Lomond Camp Crews on projects. In order to qualify, you must take a one-time, four-hour training at the camp; trainings are offered a few times a year during rainy season. We will post announcements as these are scheduled.
If you are interested in helping us with any of these, please contact us.

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